In the crowded talk show landscape, there’s probably no host who better understands the need to stand out than Conan O’Brien. When the “Late Night” pioneer’s very public job drama ended up with him on TBS, the veteran host earned the freedom to experiment with his nightly hour of television, but with the downside of a smaller audience.
Going international is just one of the ways O’Brien and the “Conan” team have found to combat that, with special episodes filmed in South Korea, Germany, Armenia, Cuba, and as of last night, Mexico. “Conan: Made in Mexico” combines in-studio segments with packages featuring the host exploring iconic elements of Mexican culture, from telenovelas to quinceaneras to football.
In lesser hands, these special episodes might end up tokenizing the cultures they explore, but Conan’s knack for self-deprecation ends up saving the day. By always being the butt of the joke, he’s never actively mocking these cultures. In addition, the decision to go south of the border has a deliberately political bent to it: “Made In Mexico” leans into the mess that is the current relationship between our two countries, letting Mexican citizens speak honestly about the hurt and anger they feel over the rhetoric which has saturated American politics over the last year. (Yes, there are many, many wall jokes.)
The entire special is worth watching, but thanks to the magic of the Internet you can also enjoy individual segments. Here were some of the highlights.
Monologue En Español
O’Brien takes on the challenge of performing a run of monologue jokes entirely in Spanish, a language in which he is clearly not fluent. For a comedian, this is the equivalent of trying to drive a car with your hands tied behind your back, but the studio audience is very supportive of his efforts.
Conan Meets the People
While framed as a “Border Wall Pledge Drive,” this segment is really just a great excuse to get Conan mingling with people on the streets of Mexico City. There’s at least one great Trump joke in here, as well as a Selfie Guy for the ages.
Telenovela Guest Star
Similarly to when Conan crashed a Korean soap opera during his trip to Seoul last year, Conan made his Spanish-language acting debut on Mexican telenovela “Mi Adorable Maldición.” (He unfortunately did not get the part he was hoping for.)
Diego Luna Interview
Luna proved during the “Rogue One” press tour that he’s a delightful interview (someone please let him touch Jabba the Hutt) and “Conan” showcased him at his very best. Between the mezcal toast, a hilarious story about his first on-camera sex scene, and an impassioned plea for better understanding between America and Mexico, this interview was pure “medicine.”
Conan crashes a pick-up soccer game at a Mexico City park, and while Conan’s short-shorts are a sight to behold, this one’s really worth it for the reaction Conan’s new friends have to seeing star player Giovani Dos Santos join them.
More clips can be found at TeamCoco.com. “Conan” airs weeknights at 11 p.m. on TBS.